Past IDer: Joanne Mendel

by New Idiom


Please quickly introduce yourself in a sentence or two. Where are you from? Where are you now? When did you graduate from ID and which program?

I grew up as a “Navy brat” across much of the geographic US and can’t really lay much claim to any international roots but sported a Rivera tan when I was only two. I’ve been working in San Francisco for the past 15 years with a two year stint at the ID along the way. I graduated in ’97 with an MDes in Human Centered Communications where I focused on designing information-based products, services and decision tools.

Married? Yes, happily.


I’m an aunt to 5 nieces and nephews…which I think more than satisfies this requirement:)

Politics? Yes

Religion? No

In which ways and dimensions do you think ID changed your career?

It turned out to be quite profound, though I think I had my doubts (as did the faculty) during my first year about whether it was going to be a good fit. What changed everything for me in my experience at ID is when I realized that rather than getting answers there, it was more about being able to ask the right questions and apply different methods for revealing the answers to myself. I’ve been working on this trajectory ever since.

What are the skills learned at ID that you use the most in your current practice?

A lot of visual modeling. That’s how I tend to process and synthesize information and abstract it so that I can problem solve with it. It also helps with clients and in team settings where you need to get information out of people’s heads to in order to share it. There are usually multiple perspectives in either situation that need to be brought to bear on a problem and without a way to work from a shared mental model of the problem space, it’s almost impossible to leverage those perspectives to their fullest.

What hard times did you have at ID while a student, and what got you through them?

When I’m in an academia I tend to ask how can I apply what I’m learning in the field and vise-versa. I think academia is a great testing ground, but I look for tools that I can make my own and continue grow with in practice. There’s time to experiment in academia but the problems can’t be so far removed that they can’t hold up to the fire of reality (at least at the Master’s level). The reverse is true of practice, where you’re learning by doing all the time and there’s little time to reflect. So at ID I was always evaluating methods in terms of whether I could really think with them effectively and in essence, seeing if I could break them. I’d rather learn that in school than in the real world. It was my class mates and one or two teachers who really engaged me in these conversations which I loved them for.

If you could have changed one thing about your time at ID, what would it have been?

I suppose it would have helped me if the faculty was more explicit about the experimental nature of the program at the time. I certainly would have been less of a thorn in their side:)

What other advice do you have for current and/or future ID students?

It’s hard and imperfect but great none-the-less. Really go for it and make the most of your time there. Come by visit at Cheskin if you’re out in the bay area.